"discriminatory laws and malfunction in the administration of justice result in impunity for perpetrators and perpetuate discrimination and violence against women. "
UN press release 8 February 2005
Prof. Yakin Ertürk, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights issued the following statement at the end of her official visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran (29 January to 6 February 2005):
During my visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran, 29, I held meetings in Tehran with representatives of the Government, the Judiciary, the Majlis (parliament), the Expediency Council, the police, the Islamic Human Rights Commission and UN agencies. I also met with female human rights defenders, academics, journalists and lawyers. I heard testimonies from victims of human rights violations and also visited female detainees in Evin Prison, Tehran. In Ilam I held meetings with representatives of the local authorities, the Islamic Human Rights Commission, non-governmental organizations and families and victims of human rights violations. My delegation also visited a house of the State Welfare Organization for female victims of violence.
I am encouraged by a number of positive developments, especially the high number of female students in higher education said to be 62 per cent of the total. I hope that employment opportunities will be created to utilize this valuable human resource. I note that the ILO Convention on elimination of worst forms of child labour has been ratified. I note that additional legislation for the protection of children such as the bill on juvenile courts, elimination of death penalty for juveniles, and the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child are before the Majlis. There are also a number of directives that have been introduced by the Judiciary including a moratorium on stoning which I hope will soon be introduced as law. I also welcome the research undertaken on various forms of violence against women, including that carried out by the Centre for Women's Participation of the President's office. I hope that the findings will provide a sound ground to address these problems with concrete measures for the elimination of violence against women.
I welcome the efforts of the Sixth Majlis to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The bill was regrettably stopped by the Guardian Council; and is now before the Expediency Council for further study and I hope that they will decide positively on its ratification in 2005.
In Iran I observed an emerging civil society and active female students, journalists, lawyers and academics engaged in working to promote human rights and prevent violence against women. Their initiatives should be nurtured by all State institutions and supported by bilateral and multilateral organizations as a means to build a stronger and healthier society.
I would like to present my preliminary observations on the situation of violence against women in Iran within the context of the 1993 UN Declaration on the elimination of violence against women which defines violence in the family, in the community and that perpetrated or condoned by the State.
In the family, women face psychological, sexual and physical violence. The existing laws and practice fall short of providing the necessary protection for victims of domestic violence. Time-consuming and costly judicial procedures and stigmatization often discourage women from pursuing their rights. Difficulties in obtaining divorce and the custody of the children adds to the hardships of women. These situations have serious consequences for women's mental and physical health. For example, women in Ilam are taking their own lives as the ultimate means of escape, or in some cases women have killed their abusive husbands or relatives.
Women also face violence in the community. There are reports of trafficking of Iranian women and girls particularly to the Gulf countries. In this context, I welcome the anti-trafficking law and hope it will provide effective protection for the rights of the victims.
I am also concerned that victims of rape face numerous obstacles in accessing justice. Due to the rules of evidence if rape can not be proven a woman could be punished for illegitimate relations. On the other hand a woman who may kill a rapist in self defence could face the death sentence.
Concerning violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, I am seriously concerned at arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment, and prolonged solitary confinement which have been used in violation of Iran's Constitution and international law. Furthermore, detainees are reportedly held in incommunicado detention throughout the investigative phase without access to legal counsel, including during interrogations and when making confessions.
I am troubled by the widespread practice of arrest for political opinion, including female human rights defenders, and for "moral offences" reportedly carried out by quasi-official forces and bodies operating in parallel to official institutions. I am also concerned that in the majority of cases I reviewed the safeguards for fair trial and the principle of proportionality in the punishment of certain crimes were not observed.
In conclusion, discriminatory laws and malfunction in the administration of justice result in impunity for perpetrators and perpetuate discrimination and violence against women.
In view of my observations, I would like to make the following initial recommendations to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
· Prioritize law reform to amend all discriminatory laws in conformity with the Constitution and international human rights instruments (the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the ILO Convention on the elimination of the worst forms of child labour) to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a party;
· Ensure transparency, including through the provision of dates and procedure, for the implementation of measures for judicial reform which are currently being discussed to improve administration of justice for women;
· Work towards alternative forms of punishment orientated towards prevention and rehabilitation rather than revenge and in this context abolish the death penalty;
· Until then, following credible reports of violations of the right to fair trial and discrimination against women, carefully review the evidence against all detainees sentenced to death;
· Adopt effective measures to ensure observance of safeguards to protect the rights of detainees, all allegations of torture should be duly investigated, the culprits punished and measures taken to prevent any recurrence of such acts;
· Adopt a national action plan for promotion and protection of human rights with special emphasis on the elimination of violence against women;
· Conduct awareness raising campaigns, including through written and visual media, to promote positive images of women and educate the population about human rights and elimination of violence against women;
· Engage in "cultural negotiation" at all levels of society to bring out the positive elements in culture and tradition and discourage the negative ones;
· Promote participation of women in society and increase number of women in decision-making positions in all sectors.
I wish to thank the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for facilitating my visit. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the human rights organizations, individuals and victims of violence for valuable information provided. Finally, I would like to thank the UN country team for their support to the visit.
I will introduce an oral presentation of my findings to the sixty-first session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2005, and a report of my findings and recommendations to the sixty-second session in 2006.
I would like to conclude my statement with a quotation from the Takvir Sura (verses 8-9) "[In the day of the judgement] it will be asked from the girls who were buried alive: "For what sin were you murdered."
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